Samhain Retro Historical
Susannah Calhoun has always been able to charm her way into anything she wants. But when she is arrested for a murder she didn't commit, she realizes there's no sweet talking her way out of this one. The victim is the brother of a U.S. Senator, who demands Susannah be tried in his home city of Denver. He's even summoned a U.S. Marshal to make sure she gets there.
Marshal Jedidiah Brown reluctantly accepts the assignment as a favor to a friend. He already knows Susannah's trouble from the way sparks flew the first time they met, but he doesn't believe her a murderer. When a lynch mob busts her out of jail and tries to hang her, Jedidiah realizes he has to buy time to prove her innocence.
Pursued by the man who would see Susannah dead, the road to Denver is filled with peril as they search for the witness who could clear her name. Their time alone on the road brings them closer than ever, but the witness proves elusive, and Denver looms on the horizon—the end of a journey that could end with love. Or the gallows.
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Excerpt from The Lawman's Surrender
Forty-eight hours later, Susannah watched Sheriff John Benning of Silver Flats turn the key to her jail cell. She had taken the early stage out of Silver Flats and made it halfway to Colorado Springs, before the local lawmen had caught up to the coach in search of her. They had called her a murderess and made a big scene of dragging her off the stage and back to Silver Flats.
And to add insult to injury, the sketch on the wanted poster they had brought with them had been most unflattering.
“Sheriff Benning, this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!” Susannah exclaimed as the lawman hung the key on a peg on the wall. “I did not kill Brick Caldwell!”
The sheriff sighed. “Look, Miss Calhoun, a neighbor saw you run out of the house after midnight last night.”
Miss Calhoun. Susannah’s heart clenched at his formality. Over the past few months, she and the sheriff’s family had been easing toward a close friendship. Now the suspicion of murder put distance between them. “I won’t deny that I was there, Sheriff,” she said, pride stiffening her spine.
His expression wavered between apology and duty. “From what Miss Anne Blanchard says, you had a supper with Mr. Caldwell after last night’s show.”
“Anne Blanchard!” Susannah snorted. “She wanted my spot on stage. And she wanted Brick for herself. Darn it, Sheriff, she just wanted to be me!”
“Miss Calhoun, I don’t think you appreciate the gravity of your situation here.” Sheriff Benning pushed a hand through his dark hair and gave her a sympathetic look. “You’re the only one we can place at the murder scene last night. Since he was killed with a knife from the dinner table…and since you left town early the next morning…”
“You think I killed him.” Fear curled in the pit of her stomach. “But I didn’t. Brick was alive when I left. Alive and cursing, as a matter of fact, since I’d just hit him over the head with a statue.”
“Now why would you go and do a thing like that?”
“Because he was trying to force me to become his mistress,” she said bluntly. “Ask Abigail Hawkins, his housekeeper. She was there when I left. She heard Brick shouting after me.”
“Mrs. Hawkins left town yesterday morning,” the sheriff informed her.
“Left?” The world spun for a moment as Susannah realized her best hope had taken the morning stage to who-knows-where. “You let her go? How do you know she didn’t kill Brick?”
“Mrs. Hawkins stated that she left that night at seven o’clock, as she always did,” the sheriff said. “Mr. Caldwell’s neighbor saw her leave. She’s not a suspect at this time.”
“But she was there,” Susannah said softly, then lifted her gaze to the sheriff’s as fear clogged her throat. “I didn’t kill him.”
He sighed. “That’s for a jury to decide, Miss Calhoun.”
Susannah leaned weakly against the bars. “When is the trial?”
“In two weeks.”
“Two weeks!” She stood up straight. “Why so long? Can’t you just get a jury together so I can prove my innocence and get this over with?”
“It’s not that simple.” Sheriff Benning scratched his chin. “You know Mr. Caldwell’s family owns that big mining company out of Denver, and his uncle, the Senator, asked the governor if the trial could be in Denver to make it easier for them to attend. A U.S. Marshal is on his way to escort you there.”
“A U.S. Marshal? Oh, that’s just what I need.” A vision rose up from the past of wicked dark eyes beneath peaked brows, but she forced the memory from her mind.
“Is there no way we can just have the trial here, Sheriff Benning? After all, this is where the crime occurred.” She gave him her most winning smile.
“Sorry, Miss Calhoun.” John Benning swallowed hard and shuffled his feet. “I’ve got my orders straight from the governor. You’re going to Denver. There’s nothing I can do.”
He turned to walk away.
“Sheriff.” When he looked back at her, she asked, “What’s my supposed motive for killing him?”
“Maybe self-defense,” he replied. “You said he was pressing his attentions on you. But it doesn’t really matter. According to the evidence, you’re the only one who was there.”
As he left the room, Susannah sank down on the stark cot her cell. One moment she was the star performer at the Silver Dollar Opera House, the next she was a murder suspect. She wracked her brain for a way to prove her innocence.
She had indeed dined with Brick after the eleven o’clock show the night before last, and he had made it clear that to refuse the invitation was to lose her job. While she had rebuffed Brick’s attentions many times without repercussions, that night he had seemed determined that she would end up in his bed—willing or not. Things had escalated, and she had been forced to defend herself.
Susannah got up and paced the length of the tiny cell. It wasn’t the first time she had been forced to fight for her virtue, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. She knew that men found her beautiful, and that was fine. But some of them lost all sense of reason in their desire to pursue her. She would have cursed fate for giving her such stunning looks, but it was hard to feel remorseful when she had deliberately cultivated a lethal charm to go with her striking appearance. Many a time she had used her attractiveness to get out of tight situations, but it didn’t look as if she’d be able to charm her way out of this one.
Fear rose again, and she fought it back with pure strength of will. If she gave in to her rising panic, she wouldn’t be able to think. She had to figure out what to do next.
The only flaw in Sheriff Benning’s case was his assumption that she had been the only one there that night. There was one other person who had been at the scene, the only person who could clear her name—Abigail Hawkins. But Sheriff Benning had obviously crossed Brick’s housekeeper off his list of suspects. And now that the woman had left town, the chances of getting her to change her testimony were slimmer than ever.
She remembered Abigail’s smile and wondered what had been behind it. Why had the housekeeper lied to the sheriff? What was she hiding? Had she killed Brick? These questions had to be answered.
John Benning was as honest as the day was long, and just as stubborn once he made up his mind. Since he wouldn’t bring Abigail back in for more questioning, the task fell to Susannah. She would have to find Abigail herself and clear her own name. Obviously the law wasn’t going to help her do it.
With a thoughtful expression, Susannah regarded the small, barred window of her cell and started to plan a jail break.
Jedidiah groaned and, half-awake, reached across the bed, as if searching for someone even in slumber.
The call came again, louder. “Marshal Brown!” Then there was a pounding noise, like thunder. Was it going to rain?
With a start, Jedidiah sat up in the bed. Daylight streamed into his hotel room, a rude contrast to the moonlight that lingered in his memories. Scowling, he glanced at the pillow beside him, but there was no evidence that anyone had shared the bed with him.
He let out a gusty sigh and rubbed both hands over his face. Another dream.
“Marshal Brown!” Someone continued to shout his name and pound on the door.
With a muttered curse, he shoved aside the sweat-dampened sheets, grabbed his gun from beneath the pillow, and stalked across the room, unconcerned with his naked state. He positioned himself to the side of the door, then reached over and yanked it open, leveling his Colt at the startled hotel clerk. “What?”
The young man’s eyes bulged, and his mouth worked for a full minute without any sound coming out of it. Finally he just shoved a piece of paper at Jedidiah and ran.
Jedidiah slammed the door, then turned to face his empty bed. Crumpling the paper in his hand, he leaned back and pounded his fist against the sturdy wood in frustration. The damned dream was always so real. He hated to wake up to the truth.
Even the memory of the dream was enough to stir his flesh. He glanced at the paper, but the words blurred before his sleep-heavy eyes. With a muttered curse, he went to the washstand and put down the paper, then poured water into the basin. It was cold from sitting out all night, and he gratefully sponged off his overheated skin, his mind still awhirl with the images the night had brought.
If it had just been an ordinary erotic dream, he would have shrugged it off as the normal fantasies of a healthy, thirty-nine year old man. But she was in it again, and that wasn’t so easily pushed aside.
Damn Susannah Calhoun, anyway.
He finished washing and reached for his pants. Ever since he had met the woman last year, he hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind. Lord knew she was a beauty, but it wasn’t just her looks that drew him. The first time he had seen her, he had been struck by a feeling of recognition, as of she were a part of himself looking back at him.
That feeling still disturbed him.
Uncomfortable with the feeling, he had tried to avoid her. But Burr, Wyoming Territory, was a small town, and their paths had been bound to cross occasionally. When they did, conversation became a battlefield of dagger-sharp insults and strategic retorts that grew more heated each time they met.
Perhaps if he’d never kissed her—or better yet, if they’d just ripped up the sheets a time or two—he’d be getting more sleep.
Jedidiah grabbed a plain white shirt, buttoned it up, and tucked it into the waistband of his buckskin-colored pants. The woman had haunted him ever since he’d left that one-saloon town.
She was just a woman, he had thought, and women were easily forgotten.
But now he found himself dreaming of her nearly every night. More than once he had considered riding through Burr again just to see if he had imagined the whole thing. But he had managed to stop himself before he did something so foolish.
One thing he had learned in life was that caring brought pain. So except for his older sister, Lottie, he made it a policy never to open his heart to anyone.
Jedidiah sat on the bed and reached for his boots. He hadn’t seen his sister in a while, and now that the Slater gang was safely behind bars, he planned to go home to Charleston for a visit. He looked forward to seeing his nieces and nephews.
He lifted his leg to yank on his boot, and his gaze fell on the message still sitting on the washstand. He stomped his foot into the worn leather, then reached for the crumpled piece of paper. He frowned as he smoothed it out. It had better not be more orders. He needed a break.
The telegram was short and sweet. So was the curse he uttered.
BABY DUE ANY DAY. CAN’T LEAVE SARAH. STOP. SUSANNAH IN JAIL FOR MURDER SILVER FLATS, COLORADO. STOP. PLEASE HELP. DONOVAN.
Damnation, he was going to have to put off Charleston, after all. And the reason made even a cynic like him appreciate Fate’s sense of humor.
He shoved the telegram into his pocket. Jack Donovan was perhaps the only real friend he had in the world, and he was real fond of Jack’s wife, Sarah, too. Now Sarah’s sister, Susannah, was in trouble, and there was no way Donovan could possibly go help. Which left it up to Jedidiah.
He grabbed his other boot and stamped his foot into it, then quickly donned his dark duster and worn tan hat. He packed his things by the expedient method of sweeping them off the bureau and into his satchel. Then he headed toward the door. He had telegrams of his own to send.
Copyright © 2012 Debra Mullins
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication